More than 40 Denton residents gathered at City Council member Kevin Roden's house Wednesday night to share their concerns and questions about Texas Woman's University's plan to expand into their neighborhoods. Kevin Roden
TWU has a land acquisition plan that marks neighborhoods along the southeast and west borders of the campus as future expansion areas. Thirty-nine properties in those two areas have been purchased by the university and the houses demolished. At this time, the university says it doesn't have specific plans for the areas.
During the approximately two-hour meeting, residents discussed concerns about the effects of the university's expansion on the values of their homes as well as concerns about a lack of interest from the city.
Some of the residents were concerned about empty houses bought by TWU being used for police training before being demolished, saying the training involves kicking in doors and firing guns loaded with blanks. Others are concerned about a lack of city enforcement for property maintenance as well as road maintenance in the neighborhoods.
Homeowners in the neighborhoods - which cover areas north of Texas Street toward the campus and east of Austin Street - said they believe there is still time to save the neighborhoods if the university and city are willing to work with residents.
Dan and JoNell Nichter, who live on East College Street, were in attendance. The houses behind theirs are gone, and a few houses on their street have been demolished. They weren't aware when they bought their house in 2002 that it was in the path of TWU's expansion plan.
Dan Nichter said he wants the neighborhood to be improved and enhanced instead of having its houses torn down.
"There are people who want to live in the neighborhoods," he said. "It's not going to happen if they keep tearing them down."
TWU has been buying properties in that area over the last few years as homeowners have been willing to sell, university officials have said. They have not exercised eminent domain to acquire the land, having simply let the homeowners in the area know they are willing to buy the properties.
JoNell Nichter said she wants to maintain the sense of community that exists in the neighborhoods around the university, as well as the diversity of inhabitants including professors, college students and retired couples.
The Nichters own rental homes in other parts of Denton and said the city makes sure they maintain those properties. And that's what Dan Nichter said should be done with the rental properties around TWU - instead of tearing them down, the houses should be improved.
He said it seems like the university doesn't really want to work with the homeowners in those neighborhoods, but instead is simply going to wait them out.
A young real estate agent who has rented a house on Austin Street for five years also was in attendance.
Laura Mauelshagen, with Ebby Halliday Realtors, said she believes people are interested in buying homes in the historic neighborhoods.
"It's really sad they're tearing them down," she said.
Mauelshagen said some of the rental house owners may not be as interested in preserving the houses as those who live in them, adding that the density of rental property is high because the area is close to the university.
She said schools such as Southern Methodist University and Texas Christian University have had success preserving the neighborhoods around them.
"There are places for compromise," Mauelshagen said.
She said people also want to live around TWU because of the close proximity to downtown.
Some of the attendees said they were simply there to offer support. Joann Nunnelly doesn't live in one of the neighborhoods that TWU is looking to expand into, but she has been in a similar situation.
She is part of the West Oak Area Homeowners Association, which worked with the City Council and Historic Landmark Commission on what would happen to the property where the well-known "leaning house" once stood.
"We banded together for a similar cause," she said. "I wanted to support them [near TWU]."
Roden said he was encouraged by the meeting and glad to see that people were interested in the topic and willing to help by taking a positive approach to the situation rather than a negative one.
"The turnout was surprising," Roden said.
He said he had built relationships with some of the attendees prior to the meeting but hadn't met about half of them before.
Roden plans to follow up with those who attended and organize their questions and concerns to take to the university.
"That adds to making sure this is a good relationship," he said of the interaction between the neighborhoods and TWU.
RACHEL MEHLHAFF can be reached at 940-566-6889. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .